Alley to Speak at Bloggers Conference

This afternoon I am speaking at the International Food Blogger’s Conference in Santa Monica; I’m on a panel about integrating wine into a food blog and my specific topic is to share some ideas on how to create compelling content about wine and food. I was invited because I am considered an influential wine blogger who frequently includes food in my wine reviews and because I am a writing teacher and coach.

As I reflected on what I wanted to share, I realized that creating compelling content is the same no matter what the topic. This seems obvious now and it took me down a much more productive path in terms of my preparing to contribute to what I think will be a valuable session.

The key points I will be offering are:

1) Go for the jugular.
2) Tell stories.
3) Be specific.
4) Experiment.

You can read more about it over at my Wine Predator blog. I’ll be posting notes from my presentation there as well as here.

PS Today is my son’s birthday! He is 8 years old today.


Tuesday Tips: On “It’s” & “Its”

Here are two wonderful and important concepts from a blog post I was reading and which inspired me to write this morning:

Social Networking at it’s very foundation is building relationships with people…

Social networking at it’s finest: making friends and helping each other at the same time.

Do you know the difference between “it’s” and “its”? Chances are that you don’t. There’s even a facebook page about it’s and its (that’s where I found the graphic).

Using it is when you mean its and its when you mean it is ranks up there as the most common mistake I see in online and offline writing. My undergrad college students get it wrong and my graduate students in education got it wrong too.

This is the most common spelling, punctuation or grammar mistake that I find online. And I find at least a few examples of it every day in online publishing. In fact, as I mentioned above, this post itself is inspired by a blog post where “it’s” was used wrong more than once and both times in a headline as shown above.

(The second most common mistake? Using semi-colons–I’ll get to that next!)

Most of the time the writer who uses its/it’s wrong has strong content and writing skills (like in this case), but doesn’t know when to use “it’s” or to use “its”; these writers tend to use one or the other all the time, possibly on the false assumption they’d be correct 50% of the time. (If I was to take this strategy, I’d use “its” not “it’s,” by the way…)

Learning how to use “its” or “it’s” is one of the first orders of business when I am working with someone on writing.

So when do you use “it’s” and when do you use “its”? Continue reading

Tuesday Tips from Kathy Sierra on How To Kick *, Create Passion, Do It All Better

Last week, Kathy Sierra wrote a guest post for Hugh McLeod’s “gaping void” blog about some current trends in social media which included this graphic. (FYI, Hugh McLeod is famous for some outrageous marketing ideas for wine and tweed as well as drawing insightful cartoons which he also uses in his best-selling book Ignore Everybody.)

In her guest post, Kathy Sierra asks, “why are people still so convinced that social media and all related buzzwords are The Answer?” when, if the product is truly crap, “your social media strategy won’t save you.”

“You want to use social media not because you *must*,” continues Kathy Sierra, “but because you can add even more value for your users by doing so.”

In conclusion, Kathy Sierra says, “There is a world of difference between helping someone *appear* more awesome and helping them actually BE more awesome.”

Reading this article reminded me of how insightful she is and it made me look up a blog post I wrote following hearing her speak in August 2008 at my first WordPress conference. Continue on to read her 20 ways to kick ass and create passion without resorting to the “gamification” she decries in her article on Hugh McLeod’s blog last week.

Kathy Sierra's WordCamp Waterfall of Words: How To Kick Ass, Create Passion, Do Everything Better (even sex!) What do you do to help people kick ass? In a waterfall of words, Kathy Sierra swam us through 20 ways in the final presentation at WordCamp 2008. While she was speaking primarily to and for software programmers and developers, and not just WordPress uses, I could see where much of what she had to say applied to me as a poet, and as a blogger, and in other ways as well. (Heck, a lot of it even applies to having great sex!) This is what I got out o … Read More

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Tuesday Tips: Just because you didn’t think of it first, doesn’t mean you can’t do it

Back in November, a friend called to tell me he was getting married to the wonderful woman he’d been dating. They’d set the date for May and they wanted me to officiate their wedding.

Who? Me? Officiate a wedding? How?

Which was kind of his response in 2003 when I asked HIM to officiate my wedding to Marshall.

“You’re the hostest with the mostest,” I think he said–or something along those lines. “You’re a wonderful orator. You’re our friend. We’d like to have you do it.”

So I said yes.

As the months progressed, we would talk about getting together to discuss the wedding. But we were all busy. As the date got closer, I became a little more concerned and wondered exactly what it was they wanted me to do.

And what should I wear? Kimberly, the bride, sent me copies of the dresses she and her attendants would be wearing: deep rich purples and turquoises. I got lucky and found the perfect dress at a thrift store–and it was brand new. At least I knew what I’d be wearing on this important day when everyone would be looking at me–and a most beautiful bride looking her very best and a handsome groom in tails!

A facebook friend commented about how much he appreciated the service at his recent wedding so I contacted him about what made it so good. When I told him they planned to give me a script, he encouraged me not only to guide them, but to actually do the service–and that I should be paid to do so.

Since these are good friends, I decided to offer to create their service as a wedding gift for them–and they accepted.

Last night, the bride, the groom and the bride’s mother came over to my house. I had wine, cheese, crackers, fruit and pate for us to snack on. For two hours, we discussed the wedding and how they wanted it. She wanted to include Native American traditions, African American traditions, and poetry, including poems by Maya Angelou and Pablo Neruda from a book I just bought; he wanted some Jewish traditions; her mom wanted some religion and Bible verses.

It seemed like a tall order.

But I knew I’d be able to do the research and use my experiences as a host and as a poet to create a moving and beautiful ceremony that would make the couple, their family, and their friends happy. They even encouraged me to include some of my own poetry or do something original for the day.

This would be a huge writing challenge and an exciting one so this week I’ll be busy preparing the service and myself to give it including getting deputized to perform it! I’ll let you know how it goes!

The lesson here is that just because you didn’t think it was part of the services you might offer, if someone asks you, consider whether or not you might be able to do the job. I might have just discovered a new career path for myself that integrates my writing gifts, my research abilities, and my skill at performance!

Tues Tips: Be Generous, Lucky

For all those moms and dads out there, you may have already noticed that April and May seem to be the key month’s for school fundraisers.

You’ve been tapped to donate time, money and goods–and your friends want you to go to THEIR kid’s fundraisers too!

Plus there’s Earth Day events and garden parties and who knows what all else going on that you feel you should support.

Well, my message today is simple: Be generous.

You don’t always know the benefits. They may be personal or professional!

In our case, we got lucky: at Earth Play at Oak Grove School, my husband donated $20 and we won a big rafflel. Now we will be trying out a lot of goods and services that we wouldn’t have normally. Then the following Saturday we attended a Garden Tour and bought raffle tickets and we won tickets to the Rubicon Theater to see a show plus dinner at Aloha Steakhouse.

Then my husband donated $10 at our son’s school–and he won a prize worth $250 there too!

At our son’s school, I also put together a basket that included two signed books from en theos press (my poetry collection and Danika Dinsmore’s tween fantasy novel), a facial from my amazing aesthetician Rose Latourelle, plus a bottle of Syrah, a wine glass and a star shaped frame.

At school fundraisers, your product or service is exposed to new people as they peruse the raffle table or silent auction items. Take advantage of it! So be generous, get lucky! With goods, services and time!

Writing made easy with Writing Helper (via News)

I’m super excited about this new WordPress feature that helps me help you with your writing before you publish that blog post to the world!

If you’ve been reluctant to blog because you need help minding your p’s and q’s, need someone to make sure you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, or would like feedback on whether an image works with your text or not, connect with me by twitter or email today about how we can work together in person or online.

Whether you’re working on personal projects or for your business or career, let’s discuss today how we can improve your writing, your blogging, and your confidence!

Writing made easy with Writing Helper We know the hardest part of blogging is actually writing posts. And most blogging software,  and even word processors, do little to help writers write. Today at we’re  proud to announce a new kind of feature, aimed at helping the writing process, called Writing Helper. It’s a new box that appears underneath the edit box on the Add a Post Screen … Read More

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Tuesday Tips: Social Media for Social Good

As someone who strives to use social media for social good, especially in the area of environmental activism and bicycling, yesterday’s article on Mashable about how to implement Facebook’s social media platform for social good caught my attention.

The article has five main suggestions, some of which I am currently using with the San Buenaventura ArtRiders Bicycle and Social Club and some which I am not because I was ignorant about them. The article goes into more depth on each of these points but here they are in brief with a few comments.

While this article is geared toward non-profits and causes, except for the first point, the advice applies to businesses as well. Continue reading

Tuesday Tips: More Heads are Better Than One on Skype

As I was working on getting information together for the Ojai WordFest writing workshops “Message in a Bottle: Ocean to Ojai” that I am leading with Danika Dinsmore, author of Brigitta of the White Forest, I realized that even though all the details weren’t set, I needed a flyer so I set to work. I thought it was all right, and when I showed it to my husband he thought it was great.

But since more heads are always better than one, I used Skype to see what Danika thought. I emailed her the draft and we talked about it on Skype.

As a writer, I am used to using email as a tool for getting feedback. But about a month ago, Danika walked me through using Skype and I LOVE IT! We skype all the time now; it’s a wonderful tool for communicating with someone–especially someone like Danika who lives in another country. While sometimes we use the video component, we mostly just talk.

Then last night, Tod McCoy of en theos press, Danika and I were working on an en theos ad for the Ojai WordFest Book Fair program Saturday March 19 from 10-4pm. We all got on a Skype group chat and in no time we had that ad figured out.

The take away lesson here: more heads are better than one! Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or to brainstorm with other people. And if you need more than a little bit of help, or if you don’t have other writers or readers to turn to who can give you substantial constructive criticism, contact me for coaching. We can work on video skype, skype chat, in person, by phone or by email.

See you at WordFest March 19-27, 2011!

Tuesday Tips: 5 ways to improve your comment etiquette

Leaving comments on other blogs is a great way to develop relationships with readers and other bloggers and to increase your SEO (search engine optimization) via links.

But there are good comments and there are comments that get trashed, spammed, deleted or ignored.

The following 5 Tips from WordPress tell you how to leave a comment that’s a keeper by practicing good comment etiquette.

Are you well-versed in comment etiquette? Which comment would you rather receive? “Great post! Check out my blog at” or “Well said! I know exactly what you mean about X, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks so. I would even say that A, B, C! Your candor is greatly appreciated.” The second one, of course. Why? For one thing, it follows the etiquette guidelines below. But even more importantly, it was written with the intent to forge a relationship, not … Read More

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